Barring a last minute setback, UFC 249 is set to go this weekend in Jacksonville, Florida. The main card will feature two title fights as well as a highly anticipated heavyweight clash between Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Greg Hardy will also be making an appearance while what fans are projecting to be an absolute barn-burner between Jeremy Stephens and Calvin Kattar is second from the bottom.
The UFC 249 prelims and early prelims are also stacked. Cowboy Cerrone and Anthony Pettis will headline the prelims while an exciting rematch between Niko Price and Vicente Luque will top the early slot.
For analysis of the rest of the card, click below.
As far as the main card goes, I’ll be a bit more bold than usual with my picks since there’s obviously nothing else to do. I ultimately bet on all but two fights on the UFC 249 main card, analysis of which can be found below.
Yorgan De Castro (+172) vs. Greg Hardy (-205)
The next entry of the Greg Hardy saga will be written on Saturday as the former NFL All Pro takes on the undefeated Jorgan De Castro. UFC 249 will mark Hardy’s first appearance of 2020 after taking five fights in 2019. All told, Hardy became just the ninth UFC fighter to make five appearances in a calendar year. His scrap with Alexander Volkov was also noteworthy, as Hardy’s 22 day turnaround is the fifth quickest in UFC history.
With that in mind, Hardy is still incredibly raw as a martial artist. He does plenty of things well and his pure athleticism is unrivaled in the division, but he is still evolving with each fight. Competing at such a high level after only starting to train in 2016 is tough for anybody, even an NFL All Pro.
While “inhaler-gate” and a disqualifying illegal knee against Allen Crowder have been blemishes on Hardy’s early MMA career, he still managed to go to the cards with Volkov. Although Volkov cruised to a points victory and didn’t seem to be pressing for the finish, Hardy displayed some impressive boxing technique nonetheless. Before injuring his hand at the end of the first round, he was landing some nice exchanges on arguably the division’s best technical striker. I’m not saying Hardy’s striking is world class by any stretch, but anyone saying that the Volkov performance wasn’t at least slightly encouraging is being a hater.
As for Jorgan De Castro, the 32 year-old has been racking up finishes and currently holds a record of 6-0. He won his UFC debut last fall via knock-out against promising heavyweight prospect and Mark Hunt training partner Justin Tafa. While Tafa’s ceiling is still unknown, what we know for certain is that he hits hard. This was on display in the De Castro fight, as Tafa hit him with some absolute missiles before leaning in to a hook. While not a long fight, De Castro proved that he can take a hit at the UFC level. We’ve yet to see Greg Hardy generate the level of power Tafa can.
De Castro is also quite agile for the heavyweight division. Though certainly not on the level of Hardy, De Castro can still move which makes this a very intriguing stylistic match-up.
A big factor to watch in this fight will be De Castro’s kicks, especially the leg kicks. “The Mad Titan” has demonstrated an ability to land devastating leg kicks in his brief MMA career. He won his fight on the Contender’s Series via leg kick TKO, a bout that has the distinction of the inaugural fight at the UFC Apex facility.
Given how new Hardy is to the sport, it will be interesting to see if he can handle the leg kicks. If the kicks prove ineffective or Hardy is able to counter effectively, I think the fight is Hardy’s to lose. If he can manage distance and work off his jab, I see Hardy securing a decision victory. I can’t see De Castro hanging with Hardy cardio wise into the late second/early third rounds and there’s a slim chance we see a large portion of this fight on the ground.
If De Castro’s kicks prove too much for Hardy and he is able to lure him into a brawl, De Castro could win. He’s dangerous in close and we’ve seen Hardy exert too much energy in fights before. Ultimately though, I see more paths to victory for Hardy and think this will be De Castro’s first loss.
It’s far from the most confident pick, however, so I won’t be betting on this one. It’s one of the toughest calls on the card due to the relative inexperience of both fighters, so it’s hard to even trust this analysis for parlays. This is no doubt a fun fight worthy of being on the UFC 249 main card, but it’s an awful fight to gamble on.
Prediction: Greg Hardy
Gambling Analysis: No play
Jeremy Stephens (+195) vs. Calvin Kattar (-240)
This fight was booked for the initial UFC 249 card and is one fans have been looking forward to for a while. This has fight of the night potential and should have big implications for the upper echelon of the featherweight division.
Both from the New England area, Jeremy Stephens and Calvin Kattar are each coming off losses.
That shouldn’t deceive you, however, as each fighter is coming off a decision loss to a top 5 opponent. Each fighter could have used championship rounds in their respective fights as both Stephens and Kattar won the respective third round. Jeremy Stephens weathered an absolute bombardment from Yair Rodriguez to steal the third while Kattar was landing on Zabit with ease in his fight. Both fighters head into UFC 249 off “good losses” if there ever were any.
Stephens in particular has always had a deceptive win/loss record. He has currently lost three in row, with losses coming against Zabit and Jose Aldo in addition to Rodriguez. Before that, Stephens was on a three fight win streak that involved a KO of Josh Emmett. Win/loss record never truly matters for Stephens.
As for Calvin Kattar, he has enjoyed plenty of success thus far in his UFC career. Through just six fights in the UFC, Kattar has secured wins over Andre Fili, Shane Burgos and Ricardo Lamas. His losses are to Renato Moicano and Zabit.
As fun as this fight could be, it’s tough to see Stephens securing the win. While this one should be a-lot of fun, this will ultimately be another example of Stephens running into a buzz saw. Kattar’s boxing is world class for the MMA world and he has trained with boxers his entire career. While Stephens always comes to brawl and will certainly be pressing forward, Kattar’s counter striking is just too good. I see Kattar being able to jab his way to a decision.
Even if the striking is even, expect Stephens to have a tough time wearing Kattar’s punches, especially later in the fight. As tough as Stephens is, Kattar is simply too much of a sniper. Expect this one to go similarly to the Arnold Allen – Nik Lentz fight a few months ago.
For those reasons, I like Kattar by decision at (+125).
Prediction: Calvin Kattar
Play: Calvin Kattar by decision (+125)
Jairzinho Rozenstruik (+220) vs. Francis Ngannou (-270)
This highly anticipated heavyweight clash will be the third fight on the main card. Initially slated as an ESPN main event, this is the fight everyone wants to see in the heavyweight division.
Ngannou comes in riding a dominant three fight, first round KO streak against JDS, Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez respectively. Ngannou’s reputation as the roster’s most powerful puncher speaks for itself.
As for Rozenstruik, he heads into this bout following a wild and dominant 2019. He was able to secure a KO against Allen Crowder in seconds followed by a first round knockout of Andrei Arlovski at Madison Square Garden. Then, in a quick turnaround, Rozenstruik stepped in to face Alistair Overeem in place of Walt Harris. While seemingly headed for a decision loss as the final seconds ticked away, Rozenstruik shattered Overeem’s lip with a devastating punch for the KO. The highlight reel victory rocketed Rozenstruik from 14th to 6th in the heavyweight rankongs and improved his record to 10-0.
As phenomenal as Rozenstruik’s run has been, many are expecting Ngannou to win at UFC 249. His overhand rights are fight ending when executed properly and the only way to truly avoid his power is to have great movement, as demonstrated by Stipe Miocic.
While Ngannou’s power will be looming large, Rozenstruik’s power cannot be overlooked either. The undefeated fighter has an extensive kickboxing background and demonstrated some impressive durability in the Overeem fight. If Rozenstruik is able to earn Ngannou’s respect early, it’s possible we see the more tentative Ngannou. Maybe not the one we saw against Derrick Lewis, but Ngannou has been careful to not be too one-dimensional since the Stipe fight.
I see the path for Rozenstruik and his momentum can’t be counted out. He’s not going to stand and trade with Ngannou and this is an entirely different fight than the Overeem fight. Rozenstruik won’t have to worry about getting taken down and clinched, making this a pure striking battle. Technical striking doesn’t always matter in the heavyweight division, but if Rozenstruik can survive the first round there is a clear path to victory here.
Now, it’s always tough to pick against Ngannou. It only takes one to change the fight in the heavyweight division in general, let alone from the hardest hitter of them all. It would be shocking to see Ngannou come out swinging relentlessly and end up gassing himself out, which means that shot should be looming the whole fight. If he takes his time, he should win.
It’s a tough fight, but I’m leaning towards Rozenstruik from a betting perspective. There’s just more paths to victory for him, although Ngannou’s power is an entirely different animal. With that said, it’s been a while since Ngannou hasn’t steamrolled a first round opponent and we don’t know how he’s going to adjust if Rozenstruik can switch it up.
Francis Ngannou should win this fight on paper more often than not, but the pedigree and momentum of Rozenstruik makes him tough to pick against. It may be bold, but I’m leaning Rozenstruik on this one.
Gambling wise there’s more than one option here. If you don’t think you need to read into this fight anymore than “Ngannou’s power is too much”, Ngannou by knockout at (-130) has value. There’s a very strong chance that this is the correct take, despite what I just laid out.
Another interesting angle would be a distance prop. The fight going the distance is currently at (+260) on FanDuel. If Ngannou launches one of his patented barrages and then gasses out, the likelihood of this fight going the distance increases dramatically. How many times has the “guaranteed knockout” failed to materialize? At (+260), there’s plenty of value. Rozenstruik by points is currently valued at (+650), if you wanted to go a step further.
I’m going to play it safe, however, and stick with the moneyline. I don’t like getting greedy if the line is solid, so I’ll stick with the Rozenstruik moneyline.
Prediction: Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Play: Jairzinho Rozenstruik moneyline (+220)
Dominick Cruz (+186) vs. Henry Cejudo (-225)
Initially slated as a match-up between Cejudo and Jose Aldo, the latter was unable to make the fight due to the pandemic. As a result, Dom Cruz will be returning to the octagon in order to challenge Cejudo for the bantamweight belt.
It goes without saying that these are two elite fighters. Cruz is a UFC legend while Cejudo is well on his way to becoming one in his own right. Cejudo’s last four victories have come against Sergio Pettis, Demetrious Johnson, T.J. Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes. Cejudo has made massive strides in his striking over this time-frame, adding to his Olympic wrestling background to become one of the most well-rounded fighters on the roster.
Dominick Cruz will be entering this title fight following a three year layoff. His last UFC appearance was a loss to Cody Garbrandt back in December, 2016. This marked the first time Cruz had been defeated in over a decade. A series of injuries hampered Cruz’s attempts to return and ultimately resulted in the three year layoff.
On the feet, Cruz’s movement is unrivaled. He is insanely difficult to hit and has some of the best stance-switching in MMA. While Cejudo should have the edge on the ground, he doesn’t implement it nearly as much as he should. It’s easy to see Cejudo engaging in a striking battle with Cruz whether he has to or not.
While Cejudo is quick in his own right, I see the fight going for Cruz if Cejudo chooses to keep it standing. While there is no true reach advantage in this fight, Cruz is nearly 4 inches taller. It’s tough to see Cejudo implementing his strengths against Cruz, even with the layoff. Taking down Dom Cruz is also easier said than done thanks to the movement.
The biggest wild card in this fight is obviously the layoff and how Cruz will look coming off it. This is the second time in Cruz’s career that injuries have forced a multi-year layoff. The last two times Cruz has returned from a long injury layoff, he has emerged victorious.
Age is an ever contributing factor, however, and Cruz will be facing perhaps his biggest challenge yet in attempting to return at 35 years-old. If there’s a significant speed reduction or severe ring rust, it will be Cejudo’s night. With that aside, this is a tough match-up for Cejudo in more aspect than one. Dominick Cruz with plus odds is too tempting given his pedigree, which makes this a prediction and play.
Prediction: Dominick Cruz
Play: Dominick Cruz moneyline (+186)
Justin Gaethje (+148) vs. Tony Ferguson (-174)
While it may not be the Khabib-Tony fight, Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje is an absolute banger on paper. Both guys bring violence and won’t go down until physically impossible to remain standing. Over five rounds, it’s tough to see this one going the distance.
Tony Ferguson of course heads into UFC 249 riding a 12 fight winning streak, the longest in divisional history. Both Ferguson and Gaethje are also coming off TKO victories against Cowboy.
On the feet this should be evenly contested, at least early. Gaethje generally comes out heavy and his leg kicks are always a big problem. I could easily see Gaethje perhaps winning the first two rounds.
That said, plenty of fighters have had good rounds against Tony Ferguson. The problem is, Ferguson never stops coming. He keeps the same pace throughout the fight and knows how to ratchet it up as soon as he senses fatigue in his opponent. If Gaethje can’t get him out of there early I see this being Tony’s night.
Gaethje has had some great fights in his career thus far but he has come up short against his biggest tests. The Arizona native’s two losses came against Dustin Poirier and Eddie Alvarez. Though both earned him fight of the night honors , Gaethje was beaten late in both fights.
Still, Gaethje is just 31 and this could be his moment to shine. The cons we just mentioned are things that can be worked on with age and Gaethje is certainly durable enough to deal with Ferguson’s punches. Ultimately though, I’ve still got to lean Tony. The ground advantage goes to Ferguson due to the submission threat and I see him dealing enough damage to grind Gaethje down over the course of the UFC 249 main event.
From a gambling perspective, I’m gonna stay away from this one. The Ferguson moneyline isn’t worth the risk and the only real value is in method of victory props. People are all over the place on how this one will go with just as many predicting a Gaethje KO as a Ferguson submission or KO. It’s too tough to make a definitive read on this one, so I’m staying away.